For retail, digital experience is the last line of defense before bankruptcy

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The holiday shopping season is upon us, and it’s an important one for retailers. For some, it means surviving another year. For others, it will be a step toward bankruptcy. For all, the focus must remain on the customer experience, and especially, the digital experience.

This year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales numbers show the impact of great digital experiences. Online spending on Black Friday was up 22.3% from a year ago for a total of $5.4 billion in online sales. Cyber Monday hit some even bigger records with online sales totaling $9.2 billion, with over $3 billion being spent via smartphones.

Despite the importance of digital experiences to retail success, companies are still struggling in many ways. Last holiday season, my company, Applause, tested the websites and mobile experiences of 52 of the top global retailers.

The results showed that while retailers are pushing holiday sales to new heights, they are still leaving plenty of money on the table. In fact, we found that ten of the top U.S. retailers lost a combined $60 million in holiday season sales because of just 65 high-severity software bugs. Those were the most damaging defects, but we found more than 3,000 bugs total across the 52 retailers.

Based on our retail report results, there are several steps I recommend for digital success during this year’s holiday shopping season.

Understand the entire customer journey. There should be a consistent shopping experience and brand engagement throughout the customer journey, and that starts with a deep understanding from the business side. Retail leaders can better understand this journey by going through (or having outside resources complete) an actual purchase scenario via a digital property — not as an employee but as a shopper — to walk a mile in the customer’s shoes.

Be consistent across devices and payment methods. Customers expect to shop from wherever they are, regardless of the device or payment type they’re using. Retailers must have a complete understanding of how experiences look and feel across all touchpoints. Otherwise, they risk alienating shoppers and losing sales.

Make transactions quick and easy. Retailers should take into account usability best practices, such as the maximum number of acceptable clicks to checkout, in order to provide the best possible transaction experiences.

Given the financial health and outlook for many retailers, their ability to get the digital experience right could be the difference between operating in 2021, or joining the growing list of retail bankruptcies.

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